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The Pictorial Face of Reality — Dogma approach

In 1969, Ferenc Grunwalsky, along with other Hungarian filmmakers and writers published a proclamation in Filmkultúra, the country’s most. acknowledged film magazine at the time, in which they urged for the development of documentaries with social content based on pure realism. In their words, they wanted to show »the pictorial face of reality«. The Danish Dogma group recently reinforced the problem. The essay attempts to show the complexity of the statement. The concept, and therefore the use of documentarism, has at least two very different meanings. The most common view is that documentary shows real events, describes facts without any interference of the author. The goal is to show parts of material reality as they are found in the world. There is also another view that states that the task of documentary is to show what cannot be captured by any pictorial representation, that is — mental states and emotions.

Using this approach, the author is trying to recognise some spiritual attributes within the unfolding events, to see facts in a more subjective way. Let us call them respectively objective and subjective documentaries. Subjectivism of the »pictorial face of reality« was the crucial point raised by the Dogma approach. The question was: what happens when we have a content that is pure fiction (not in a way that it cannot happen, but simply that it did not happen) and a form that is very expressive and documentary? How do form and content interact? The solution Dogma found was to radicalise the reality in a way that we start from fiction that is realistic, and through documentary-like expressive form make our experiences very intense and direct, in order to produce a hyperrealist effect that bursts like a bubble. What did this expressive form consist of? A convention developed according to which handy cam and video technique were considered more documentarist and closer to reality than classical camera movement.

Technical »amateurism« had a feature of instant shoot-and-carry accessibility to almost everyone. In Grunwalsky’s opinion, the use of VHS camera worked against classical storytelling. However, if we were not within the boundaries of experimental filmmaking, we could state that the urge to be understood and accessible remained, no matter how counter-classic the style and technique might be. The Dogma group refused to discuss content, and in Vinterberg’s Festen it was clear why — in order to save content from form’s art-for-art’s-sake the director set up a rather classical mise en scene with logically transparent plot. ’The essence of my dramaturgical considerations is that I want to chuck out the most superfluous, habitual constraints and escape from rigidity, but at the same time film is a means of communication. Joyce also wanted to escape from rigidity, but it gradually grows difficult to communicate with others apart from yourself’, said Lars von Trier.

The balance between classical storytelling and radical form was rarely achieved as harmonically as in Dogma movies. Content sometimes overrode form with its nihilistic but shocking sequences. The handy cam technique rose above a simple function; it achieved the status of style, and served as a mirror for our emotions (without sentimentalism and in best cases without unnecessary irony) on a solid and clear-cut basis of our built-in capacities that we collected through our evolution as humans. What higher complexity other than this can be imagined? The Dogma 95 was an antidogmatic program, but it was only a starting point in a game of confronting viewers through films with all the complexity and necessary radical experience of themselves as sensual and spiritual beings.

Alen Hajnal

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